June 18, 1983
This is the last morning at Grandpa's. Mom and Dad and Shelby are flying home today from Colorado Springs. They should be in before dinner. A summertime full of chores and an annoying sister is about to start.
I can't wait.
I'll miss the daily smell of Aqua Velva and one-way conversations. I'll miss hearing the persistent over-use of 'Yesireebobs' and 'Nosireebobs' that I have somehow adopted.
I don't know if he got used to me here this week. I'm pretty sure, though, that his old photographs did. I had to promise them all that I would come back and visit more often.
Grandpa's house is a good place to write. I'll be back.
"Yesireebob," said Grandpa. "It's a beautiful day for a walk in the park."
"Are we going to wait for the rest of the family to get home?" I asked.
"Not this week, they'll need to relax. Besides, I'd like to stretch my legs without listening to your father go on and on about his trip."
"Do you really think Dad will talk to you about his trip?" I asked.
Grandpa's good eye moved ever so slightly, but enough to assure me that he had heard and was considering a serious and thoughtful response.
"Nosireebob," he said. "Nosireebob."
Most Saturdays in the summer we all take a walk in the park. It's not really a park. It's a woodlot. That's what Michigan State University calls it. There's a big sign out in front that says, "Welcome to Baker Woodlot". A woodlot is a park with lots of trees, but no swings or slides. A woodlot has walking paths but no sidewalks. A woodlot is full of birds chasing birds and squirrels chasing squirrels, where you are surrounded by fallen leaves, silent until they're stepped upon, and trees, silent until the wind blows. But there are no kids playing in the Woodlot...not usually.
Mom and Dad and Shelby always walk with us on Saturdays. But their plane was landing just as Grandpa and I started down the street towards the woodlot. They'll just have to join us next week. But we didn't walk alone, nosireebob. As we turned the corner near the Tastee Twist we were joined by the Barkers.
Adam Barker and I share the same classes, hockey teams, and tolerance of younger siblings. His family lives a couple blocks over. For years we have walked together on our summer Saturday walks in the park...I mean woodlot. Mr. and Mrs. Barker seemed a little disappointed today that Mom and Dad would not be joining us. The dads always team up together to talk about the moms. They learned that from the moms who use the paths in Baker Woodlot as a safe place to share secrets about their husbands.
Nicky Barker is Adam's little brother. I'm sure he was disappointed that Shelby wasn't there. But it's hard to tell. You see, Nicky doesn't talk...not anymore...not to us. Shelby pretends he whispers to her. I'm not sure I believe her. Nicky is different, special. He is not retarded, as far as I know. He is different...and quiet...and slow.
Nicky spends most of our Saturday walks in the park...I mean woodlot, searching the ground for stuff like bottle caps and old keys and dirty pennies. His pockets are pretty full of his new found treasures by the end of each walk.
The three adults walked ahead as Adam and I walked a little slower today so we wouldn't leave Nicky behind all by himself. Usually that's Shelby's job.
Before we crossed the big street to get to Baker Woodlot, we passed the church where we attend services...five or six times a year. We try not to over-do it. There's a sign in front of St. Thomas Aquinas that has a different message each week. Churches like to give messages. Today it read:
Need Home repair?
Stop in for free evaluation!
Our CEO is a Carpenter.
I could hear Grandpa talking to the Barkers. They were about 30 feet ahead of us at the time. I don't know if they go to church or not. They sure don't attend our church...the 4 or 5 times we go. I overheard Grandpa repeat something he has said many times...but never explained.
"Four out of five people benefit from going to church." That's all he says on the subject. That's all he ever says about church. Grandpa's good with statistics.
We entered Baker Woodlot and listened to the squirrels chase the squirrels and the birds chase the birds. Last year's leaves still covered the paths and crunched beneath our feet. Nicky found 19 beer bottle caps along the way. The path travels through the woods and along the river. There's a spot just as we get close enough to the water where you can hear the Red Cedar River move down-stream.
"Asthma spray," said Mr. Barker to his wife. Right there where the path meets the water Mr. Barker had another one of his asthma attacks. Mrs. Barker always carries her husband's inhaler. She quickly handed it to him. After two puffs he felt better again.
"You should try that new medication the doctor told you about," said Mrs. Barker.
"I don't like change," he said. "Change scares me."
As Adam and I walked up to where the path meets the water, Adam said to his dad, "Do something scary every day."
Mrs. Barker didn't like the advice. "Where'd you hear such a crazy thing?"
"Dad said it," answered Adam.
Mr. Barker struggled to smile a guilty smile. He looked at his wife and simply confessed, "Kurt Vonnegut."
"If you are going to repeat every word you read to our children," she replied, "Please check with me first."
Mr. Barker breathed easier as he handed his inhaler back to his wife. He kissed her on the forehead and said, "From now on I'll repeat only the words I read in your heart."
Mr. Barker often says things to Mrs. Barker that other wives wish they heard from their husbands.
Mrs. Barker smiled back, "Just don't repeat the words you read in my mind." For whatever reason she patted him on the butt and we all kept on walking in the park...woodlot.
As we reached the end of Baker Woodlot we crossed the street to get back to our neighborhood. We passed the Tastee Twist. There was a line of people there waiting to buy ice cream. Ice cream sounded good after a long walk, but I noticed someone waving at me in line. I looked closer. It was my personal bully, Matt Boles. He stood there with his street hockey stick next to Luke Hall. My personal bully was only waving one finger.
I had Kit Kats waiting for me at my house. I didn't need ice cream or personal bullies today.
We said good-bye to the Barkers as they turned towards their house. A large car drove by and sounded its horn. It was our suburban. Mom and Dad and Shelby had finally made it home. Nicky waved to Shelby. Shelby stuck her tongue out at me.
My vacation from my sister was over.